Interview with Mr. Aaron Draplin, Draplin Design Co. and Field Notes Brand (Part 2).


(Continued from Part 1.)

4) I’ve read about your extensive bullet pencil collection, with considerable jealousy. What attracts you to this type of pencil, and how did you build your collection?

First off, it’s the compact quality. I love having a tight little drawing tool in the front pocket at all times, and I’m here to tell ya, these little sonofabitches have saved my butt many a time…on airplanes, in meetings, in a pinch, wherever. I always keep one in the front, left pocket of my 501s.

I’ve kind of given up on erasers of any sort in these little guys, as the kind you’d score from a junk store or estate sale are old, old relics and the erasers are dried way up and dead. Rock hard, usually. So, there’s this certain model that didn’t come with an eraser, and just had a plastic tipped end. I collect these ferociously, with a good 20 or so hoarded away. Now, the classic type with the erasers, shit, I’ve got a couple hundred of those bad boys.

What I love about them the most, is how banal they were back in the day. Simple, cheap advertising tools given away at local businesses. Feed-n-seed joints, car lots, insurance agents, what have you. Just crappy little promo items that packed a real wallop. I’ve got a couple old salesman sample sets. Old and beat up, and a look into what it was like to have a guy sit down and say, “Here’s what we can do for your company.” So good.

I’ve built my collection junkin’ across America—scouring the dirtiest of estate sales, garage sales, junk stores, antique malls and the occasional eBay lot. You can score them in the Midwest pretty regularly, across the rustbelt and great plains. Farmers used these things. I guess a lot of them are collector’s items. I could care less. I use the things, and never pay more than eight bucks or so for them.


5) Despite the return of the famous Blackwing, pencils in America seem to be on the decline today. Models are canceled, and most companies have moved their production out of the USA. Can you comment on the current pencil offerings available in the United States in 2011?

I’m no authority on this stuff, so I’ll tread lightly here. I know this much, it’s harder and harder to make an American Made promo pencil. And, with good imprint applications that aren’t stock type crap. I was lucky enough to get a monster order in just before Christmas and man, love these things. Hex pencils, people!


6) The Field Notes pencil is downright gorgeous. With its round shape, lack of paint and green eraser, it’s obvious that a lot of thought went into it. Can you tell us a little about the design process and what made you choose its current form?

Like all Field Notes products, we started with the direction that the thing had to be natural at all costs. Finding the source with the green eraser was a happy accident. Plus, the cedar wood just smells so nice. Those things take a beating, just like our memo books! I have a pile of them all beat to shit, still kickin’ after a couple years on the scene. Those pencils WILL NOT disappoint.

7) Are there any upcoming pencil accoutrements from DDC and/or Field Notes to which Comrades might look forward? Pencil clips? Bullet pencils? Brown sharpeners with black Futura print on them?

After an exhaustive search for the perfect pencil sharpener from existing sources, we gave up on that shit and started drawing up plans with a couple Midwestern Tool & Die manufacturers to craft the ultimate hand held sharpener unit. We’re still at the point of initial CAD drawings, blade strength options and ballistic grade metal sourcing. If we can pull these little buggers off, man, they are going to rule. Just you wait. They’ll be something to marvel at. And, get the job done for the ages!

We’ve got some leather stuff coming down the pipe for Field Notes made right here in Portland by our friends at Tanner Goods. Very, very excited about this project. And yes, there’s Futura Bold on these new items. You can take that one to the bank.

MANY MANY thanks to Aaron for helping to spread writing/noting/drawing joy, the world over!

[Images, A.D. Used with permission.]

Interview with Mr. Aaron Draplin, Draplin Design Co. and Field Notes Brand (Part 1).


Mr. Aaron Draplin, of Field Notes and design fame, was kind enough to do an interview with Pencil Revolution.  Below is Part 1 (of 2) of his answers to some very pencil-specific questions.

1) Pencils are strongly represented in the DDC “longhand” series, and the Field Notes pencil seems to follow the eponymous notebooks in adventures all over the planet.  What do you like about pencils so much?

There’s just something simple and soothing about them. I mean, I don’t want to get too existential about bonded lead or anything, but, hell, there’s just so much possibility in each one! It freaks me out. That little pencil…the tool aspect…is this little gateway to a million ideas. I think about that kind of stuff with each one I crack into. In a world where things are more and more compacted, complicated, sped up and digitized, a regular old wood pencil is always there for you. Never needing to be recharged, you know?

The more I think about it, the more pencils—on some weird level—represent “complete freedom.” Freedom from digital ubiquity and predictability. There’s something cool about how you feel human when using a pencil. That feeling goes way back to guys shaping rocks into cutting tools and stuff, I’d reckon. Or, maybe only in my head!

I like feeling one with the paper. Like this odd sense of “get it down now, or it’ll be forever gone” fills my head and hands, and I just go to work. Impermanent. Graphite can be erased. Imperfect. My hands screw up all the time. Interesting. The lines vary and never come out quite like you expected them to. I hope I’m making sense, readers!

2) What are some of your favorite pencils?  Vintage, current, perhaps a great individual find?  What do you look for in a pencil?

Basically, anything that’s natural wood, and, hexagonal! Now, for the readers, who are undoubtedly “masters of the genre,” this might sound a little vague. Basically, anything that feels good in the hand. I usually go after softer leads. Just so I can sketch and keep shit freed up. Also, if the thing is “Made in the U.S.A.” that always sends a little jolt up the wrist. And finally, there’s just something incredible about an old pencil that’s seen 60 years whip by. Never, ever throw out an old pencil. Respect yer elders, citizens!

To try and get brand-specific, I had a good run with a pack of pencils by Papermate called “American Naturals.” Unfinished wood, made in the States and hexagonal. Good feel to those little guys. Still using the last one of the litter.

3) What is your preferred way to sharpen a pencil?  Blade-type-manual-sharpener, crank model, Bowie knife?

Forever, I’ve simply used my pocket knife to keep things sharp. I like the little pile of shavings it makes! I grew up with a wall mount Berol that hung over the stairs down to our basement. So there was this sense of floating when you’d lean around the wall, and hang on the pencil sharpener while sharpening. I haven’t thought of that one in a long time. Awesome. That’s what I remember.

In my junkin’ over the years, I’ve amassed a healthy collection of vintage pencil sharpeners. In fact, that’s one of the first things I look for when I enter an estate sale garage or basement workshop. And shit, I just pry that thing right off the wall and put it in my pile. Rescued! Even if I don’t use it, it’ll go to a buddy who needs one. The idea of some half-ass estate sale worker tearing it off and throwing it out just makes me sick to my stomach. So I always grab them!

Stay tuned this week for the second half of the interview, and MEGA thanks to Aaron for agreeing to do this!

[Images, A.D. Used with permission.]

Happy Holidays, and Hemingway!


In the spirit of the holidays and of Hemingway (a pencil champion!), we present A Visit from Saint Nicholas, In The Ernest Hemingway Manner, by James Thurber.

“It was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren’t even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them.

The children were in their beds. Their beds were in the room next to ours. Mamma and I were in our beds. Mamma wore a kerchief. I had my cap on. I could hear the children moving. We didn’t move. We wanted the children to think we were asleep.”

(Read more.)

Coming up with new versions of this poem of your own is a favorite holiday pastime. I finished my Raven’s Wing Field Notes book yesterday, with my own version in native Baltimorese. But it’s way too foul-mouthed to post here.

Happy Holidays to all!! We’ll be back after the holiday with a look at a pencil-friendly selection of planners/organizers, a review of the Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener and even an interview with the legendary Pencil Hero Aaron Draplin (of Field Notes!) in the New Year.

Best and warmest wishes to you and to yours, for the best holidays yet.